Duguid sums up well what Esther cooperatively does for the sake of the empire. “She was willing to be poked and prodded, perfumed and prepared over a period of twelve months for her one night stand in the royal bedroom” (29). “We would hardly coin the slogan ‘Dare to be an Esther’ at this point in the story” (28).
As I am reading through Esther with the help of Iain Duguid’s commentary, Esther & Ruth, I am finding myself struggling with these women. Comparing the first two chapters, it’s easy to over analyze a Vashti vs. Ruth scenario.
Queen Vashti, a pagan, takes a very bold stand for human dignity. I greatly admire how she refused to submit to her husband’s ungodly request to flaunt her beauty before countless drunken men. She knew that the consequences for refusing the king’s command would be severe. But Queen Vashti chose a more expensive beauty, one that will not be cheapened by ostentatious display.
In chapter 2 we are introduced to Esther, as the king is now trying to replace his rebellious woman. Esther displays the outward behavior of submissiveness that godly women are encouraged to have. But this brand of submission is absent of any conviction. The more I grow in grace, the more I understand that submission does not equal passivity. It is an active grace.
But here we see Esther obliging to her uncle’s request to conceal her faith. And she seems to have no qualms with being a contestant in the king’s beauty pageant. Duguid sums up well what Esther cooperatively does for the sake of the empire. “She was willing to be poked and prodded, perfumed and prepared over a period of twelve months for her one night stand in the royal bedroom” (29). “We would hardly coin the slogan ‘Dare to be an Esther’ at this point in the story” (28).
Where’s the integrity? Where is the boldness like Daniel not to defile herself with a portion of the king’s delicacies (Dan. 1:8)? Rather than trust in the Lord, and submit to his rule in her life, no matter the consequences from king Ahasuerus, Esther is fully assimilated to the world’s way of thinking. Instead of pursuing a beauty that is incorruptible, she invests a year of her life in sketchy palace spa treatments.
And yet, we know how the rest of the story goes. God providentially works out these situations. Esther recognizes her position may have been building up “for such a time as this,” and boldly breaks her silence for the sake of God’s people. God works despite the disobedience of her ancestors, despite the compromises that she and her uncle were willing to make, and despite their full assimilation into the culture, for his glory and the good of his people.
This narrative is not about which character to emulate. Although the character development is pretty fascinating. And Duguid shows us the one person that we should have our eyes on in the whole account. While we seem to be willing to endure plenty of treatments of our own to enhance our beauty and reach worldly achievements and acclaim, he asks a penetrating question:
Yet how little are we willing to endure God’s beauty treatments that prepare us for Christ?This observation presses us to see both the similarities and differences between the empire of Ahasuerus and the kingdom of God. Like the empire of Ahasuerus, God’s claims on our lives are absolute. He owns our bodies, our sexuality, our career plans, our hopes, our dreams, our children…everything we have and are is his to with as he wills (30).
But Duguid also points out the marked difference in the husband that we are being prepared for.
In contrast to Esther’s twelve-month-long course of beauty treatments, our divine husband undertook a thirty-three-year pilgrimage stripped of his eternal radiance. No comfortable beds and fattening food for him, nowhere to lay his head and nothing to call his own. His pain was the prerequisite for our beauty (31).
Sure, we examine ourselves while we read about these people God has providentially raised and recorded in his Word. But they are all supporting characters to the great hero of our divine narrative. And we can’t really model him the way that we would hope. But despite that, Christ has done everything to ensure that his people will be transformed into his image when he returns for his bride. And during this process, we have his Spirit to apply his work and enable us while we persevere to live the life of obedience in the faith.
Aimee Byrd is a housewife and mother who attends Pilgrim Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Martinsburg, WV. She and her husband, Matt, have 3 children. She blogs at Housewife Theologian where this article first appeared; it is used with her permission.